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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Gas Prices Soar; Carnage in Syria

Aired February 24, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everyone. It's 10:00 on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with major late developments in the Syrian crisis.

Also, we have the best look yet, the clearest picture possible of what life in the city of Homs is like and what the fighting I really like, extraordinary video to show you tonight, you have never seen anything like it, from Homs, how ordinary people live with the daily unreality that their own government is trying to kill them and is succeeding at doing that.

First, the very latest, sharp statements tonight from the Obama administration as America and more than 60 other countries, the so- called friends of Syria, met today in Tunisia. This is video of the meeting.

They called on the Assad regime to immediately end the violence which claimed at least 91 lives today, according to activists.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who attended that conference had a warning for the Assad regime.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Assad can still make the choice to end the violation, save lives, and spare his country from descending further into ruin. But if he continues to reject that choice, we and the Syrian people will keep pressure on him until his deadly regime cracks and collapses, because it will. I'm absolutely confident of that.


COOPER: Earlier today President Obama called for greater pressure on Assad to go.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us who've been seeing the terrible pictures out of Syria and Homs recently recognize it are absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition. It is time for that regime to move on. And it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government.


COOPER: Despite the words, the killing goes on. As we said, at least 91 live today, more than 100 yesterday according to activists and the shelling. This was the 21st day of the bombardment for people living in Baba Amr section of Homs.

Now, in the middle of this, crews from the Red Cross managed to evacuate a small number of women and children. However, this we know the two wounded Western journalists remain in Homs in that neighborhood of Baba Amr. So do the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. And so do tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians men, women, and children, cold, starving, and still under the gun.

Now, what you're about to see is the work of a French photo journalist, Mani, working with correspondent Jonathan Miller from Britain's Channel 4. Mani went into Homs and bore witness to things nobody should have to see, bombed out homes, starving people, wounded children.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Little girl and her brother both badly wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): After crossing the road the sell hits us. I fell down on the ground. But my cousin was still awake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): After that I don't know what happened. When I woke up I was here. That's all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one can bear to tell her that her father and youngest brother are dead.


COOPER: Her father is dead. Children being orphaned, kids being killed, we see it every single day. The carnage caught mostly by cell phone cameras. The people making these videos stand on the front line using perhaps the best weapon, the only weapon they have against the regime, the simple truth. And they are risking everything to do this. As a little boy explains in a home so cold you can actually see his breath.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Who is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Uncle Salah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Where is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He is a martyr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How did he die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was filming the demonstrations.


COOPER: He died filming demonstrations. That child, so many others face more than just tanks and artillery and rocket fire. They face hunger every single day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down the street, there is a long queue for bread with parts of the city besiege. You can no longer get to shops and neighboring districts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The citizens are hungry for bread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is the only bakery on the area because of the snipers people are taking more than they need. This is why it's crowded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A couple of blocks away, and you are in Sabil district where many belong to the president's sect.


COOPER: The picture is grim. Cold, hungry people being shelled, in the words of the late, Marie Colvin. But Mani's camera also caught another view of pictures of people who are killed but not yet defeated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Friday is protest day. It's almost a carnival atmosphere. But it's a carnival after defiance as the people of Homs tell their president what they think of him. Mothers, children, fathers, and fighters, this mass of humanity dances for its freedom.


COOPER: These are really some of the clearest pictures yet that we have seen out of Homs. That defiance is finding an outlet, a limited one so far in the home of the free Syrian army which is made up of army defectors and civilians going up against tanks and troops to small arms and rocket propeller grenades.

They are outgunned and outmanned. And Mani captured that fighting as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're attacking the government security building across the road, headquarters of the hated in the cover up secret police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mani, the filmmaker, finds himself at the heart of the fire fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Urban guerrilla warfare like this is relentless and terrifying. The fighters appear fearless and take crazy risks. But they still find time to look out for Mani.

Back at headquarters, the battle is raging. Free Syrian forces have detonated a bomb below the rooftop position where government snipers are trapped. After more than 12 hours, the snipers are still putting up a fight.

Casualties are mounting. A minibus ambulance then a break neck race to a make shift hospital. Free Syrian fighters have entered the government security building.

It's room-to-room fighting now, stairwell-to-stairwell.

It's a humiliation for President Assad. With bullets still flying, fighters make off with boxes of much-needed ammo.


COOPER: Really gives you a sense of the intimate nature of the fighting, room to room, street by street. It paints a picture of a situation for which there may not be any easy answers or simple solutions.

I talked about it a few moments ago with former CIA officer Robert Baer. He's currently time. com intelligence columnist, also Princeton University's Anne-Marie Slaughter. She served early in the Obama administration as director of policy planning at the state department.


COOPER: Anne-Marie, you wrote an op-ed for The New York Times today in which you argue for foreign military intervention. In fact, you call for a basically no kill zone. Explain that.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: What I'm proposing is that the countries of the region, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, essentially provide what's necessary for the free Syrian army to create zones close to borders that would be no kill zones, would be close enough for humanitarian quarters. To enable them to do that, you'd have to give them very good intelligence, communications, Special Forces on the ground, and some weapons. But not the kind of flooding weapons in that is being proposed and that I think most of us are afraid would result in a long civil war.

COOPER: Bob, you've actually suggested now for kill zones. What does that mean? ROBERT BAER, "TIME": Well, it doesn't sound good. But the Syrians right now are considering sending their heavy armor into these cities and using heavy artillery --

COOPER: Against the people.

BAER: Against the people in a last ditch effort to take these cities. And there'll be no limits to the violence. Hama -- about 10,000 people were killed. We don't know. If they do that, I don't see how the international community can't react and hit this armor. This Syrian free army can't do it. We should consider that possibility if it really does get that bad.

COOPER: So for when you call, say, a kill zone, you're saying above a certain line you send tanks, the Syrian regime, those will be destroyed.

BAER: Once the tanks cross into Hama or Homs or any other city that's rising and they're turning against the population, you have to hit them from the air. And only we can do that.

COOPER: Anne-Marie, how does this not escalate? How does this not become a situation where countries all around Syria start to send in weapons to the forces that they support? The various different ethnic groups, religious groups they support, political groups. How does it not escalate?

SLAUGHTER: Well, I'm not sure that any of us have proposals that don't have a risk of escalation. I will just say. I probably would support Bob Baer's recommendation. But I don't see any chance right now the international community is going to accept it.

I think the point of the no kill zones is that you actually could get areas at least to protect the cities that are not now under a siege. And the other assumption is that many, many, many of the Syrian army soldiers actually would defect if given the chance and given a safe place to go. So it's a partial solution. It doesn't save Homs. But I think it's better than doing nothing.

COOPER: Bottom line, Anne-Marie, do you think it's possible to really stop the slaughter in Homs or do you think it's just a matter of time before the regime has succeeded there?

SLAUGHTER: I have to say, I am not optimistic for Homs. The time to have started trying to save Homs was probably a month ago. I mean, there's one encouraging sign. Secretary Clinton said today that the U.S. government was in touch with a number of people or there were reports of many around Assad who were really getting very nervous that they hadn't signed up for this kind of slaughter. So, it is still possible we would see some kind of implosion from the inside. But other than that, my concern is to make sure there no more Homs or as few as we possibly can manage.

BAER: I think it's going to get a lot worse. I think this is a long haul with Syria. The sectarian divisions are dividing this country. And there's no easy solution. And it's not just a matter of regime decapitation. It's a long, long haul.

COOPER: Because there are Christians inside Syria who say, you know, if Assad goes and the Sunnis take over, we're going to be slaughtered. How do you alleviate that concern?

BAER: Absolutely. Well, you know, I talk to the Muslim brotherhood a lot. And I ask -- and they ask me. They say why doesn't the United States do something? And I said, they're worried about the sectarian problems. And I said for instance, what are you going to do about the -- and the Syrian brothers say we're going to kill them. What do you think? And I said, well, what do you expect?

COOPER: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bob Baer. Appreciate it. Thank you.


COOPER: Let us know what you think about the images we showed you tonight. We are on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I'm tweeting about it right now.

Up next, soaring prices at the pump and the candidates trying to make political hay out of it, not just the Republicans either. We are "Keeping Them Honest" and getting the latest on the race with Rich Galen and Hilary Rosen.

And later, something strange is happening again to those young girls in an Upstate New York town. First, it was a mysterious twitching. Now just as mysteriously, some of them seem to be returning to normal. Was it all just mass hysteria to begin with?

We have got a 360 follow-up.


COOPER: Well tonight, high prices at the pump and the presidential candidates who are trying to cash in politically, candidates as you'll see in both parties and sitting politicians as well, just about everyone who wants to turn pain at the pump into gain at the polls.

We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

First, the facts. Nationwide, the average price of a gallon gas now sells at $3. 65. That's up 12 cents on the week and up 11 percent for the year. That's almost double in fact since President Obama took office.

Now, Republican candidates are pointing that out trying to turn it against the president. They're also making a lot of vague promises. Here's Newt Gingrich at Wednesday's CNN debate.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I developed a program for American energy so new future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again. And so every American can look forward to $2.50-a-gallon gasoline.


COOPER: Speaker Gingrich like Rick Santorum blame high prices and what they considered President Obama's failed Middle East policies as well his decision to put the Keystone Excel oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico on hold.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think about what this president is doing. Here we are now facing coming up into summertime when if we had a pipeline being built right now and it could be being built right now. Right now the president could sign an order to build that pipeline. We'd have the construction jobs and the knowledge of the industry that this would be coming online.


COOPER: Well, Senator Santorum has gone on further recently saying about the Obama administration -- quote -- "they want higher energy prices. They want to push their radical agenda on the public."

Speaker Gingrich recently put a petition up on his Web site entitled "drill here, drill now, pay less." Suggestion being that the White House is anti-drilling.

As the suggestion, it's not just the candidates. House speaker John Boehner recently held a closed door strategy session with Republican members. According to "The New York Times," he told them quote, "this is a debate we want to have."

But "Keeping Them Honest," there are whole lots of factual problems on the case for blaming this president or frankly any president for prices at the pump. Prices nearly doubled under President Obama. But economists both liberal and conservative point out a key reason why the prices were low when the president took office, the recession. People drove less, flew less, bought fewer products that needed shipping. So demand for oil and gas plummeted and prices were low.

As for the suggestion, that President Obama opposes domestic drilling for gas and oil, "Keeping Them Honest," the pictures not so clear. "Business Week" crunching numbers from the U.S. energy information agency, reports that domestic oil production is actually at its highest level in eight years. However, some of that production was approved before Mr. Obama took office. It's important to note that. Oil imports are down as well. Critics, including the American petroleum institute claims, it is slow in new drilling leases and permits which can impact future production.

In any case, experts we've spoken to from both ends in the political spectrum say there's not much this president or any president can do to effect gasoline prices. The price of gasoline depends on price of crude which depends on global demand. The price also spikes up when rogue nations like Iran make threatening noises and the Middle East erupts. It rises because the American economy is growing again. Just yesterday, President Obama tried to call out his critics.


OBAMA: There are no silver bullets short-term when it comes to gas prices. And anybody who says otherwise isn't telling the truth. Anybody who tells you that we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about.


COOPER: That may or may not be, but just in case you only think we're keeping Republicans honest. Keeping the president honest, didn't exactly stop Senator Obama from campaigning against high gasoline prices when he was running for president.


NARRATOR: On gas prices, John McCain's part of the problem. McCain and Bush support a drilling plan that won't produce a drop of oil for seven years. McCain will give more tax breaks to big oil. He's voted with Bush 95 percent of the time.

Barack Obama will make energy independence an urgent priority.


COOPER: Well now, in fairness, Mr. Obama's plan for energy differs sharply from the current GOP talking points. But it's based on the same shaky assumption that presidential policy makes a difference at the pump. And he wasn't the first democratic candidate to do what Republicans are doing now.

2006, the "USA Today" headline reads "Democrats blame Bush for higher gas prices." So, is this just a case of what's gas for the goose is gas for the gander?

Joining us is Rich Galen. He is the associate with the Tea Beacon and Beacon's plan which focuses on America's energy issues, and Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen.

Apologize for the pun there.

Rich, you say the price of gas is absolutely a winning issue for Republicans. You think this is a winning issue for Republicans?


Well, it's a winning issue for Republicans because there happens to be a democrat in the White House. If the situation were reversed, it would be a winning issue for the Democrats. But to protect the president to this regard, every president since Richard Nixon at least, has said elect me and we'll have energy independence. First of all, we're not going to have energy independence because we have two of the three biggest oil traders are Mexico and Canada. And you want to keep trading with them on oil.

But the other side of this thing is that it is that, that there is no reason for in terms of demand for oil prices to be spiking to $109. It is all as you said in the lead up to this, it is all geopolitical. You have Nigeria. You have Iran. You have all these places where traders say I need to protect myself moving forward and are bidding the prices up, but there's no demand reason for this.

COOPER: Hilary, it is hypocritical for the president to be pushing back on Republicans for using the same kind of rhetoric he used when he was running for president against Bush.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I looked at that ad. And you're right, Anderson. It would have been hypocritical if that's what he said. But what he said was that Republicans are in cahoots with big oil so to the extent that prices do drop, oil companies don't give consumers the benefit of dropped prices. And that really is because the Republicans are being funded by big oil.

And, you know, when you look at a plan like Mitt Romney's, it doesn't take on oil because he's funded -- you know, his super PAC is funded by the Koch brothers.

GALEN: I might not even sure what does it means.

ROSEN: Who run, who run big oil. But -- but let's talk what actually president can do.

GALEN: The reason, Hilary that Republicans say gasoline prices have risen so far, is because they dropped so far. Oil went down to $35 a barrel at the beginning of the recession.

ROSEN: Right. If you want --

GALEN: Oil companies have not officially brought that up.

ROSEN: If you want it.

GALEN: The price is what the price is.

ROSEN: And what I'm saying is when the prices went down, when the prices go down, consumers can get the benefit. But oil companies have made record profits now. And nobody is dealing with the fact that they're making these record profits as the prices go up. It's not that they're paying it all out.

But wait. Let's just go back to the things that politicians do have control over. If we all agree that presidents can't control the price at the pump. What President Obama has done is he says we're going to depend less on the pump. So he doubled the fuel efficiency standards for cars. And got everybody together, the auto makers and consumers --

GALEN: But that's not going to change anything today. ROSEN: It does. It changes demand. Rich, I let you talk. Let me talk.

COOPER: Let's not -- guys, let's got talk over each other. Both just stop on this topic. I want to switch gears for a moment. I want to show this event that Mitt Romney held in Michigan today. I want to show images from it. It was attended by about 1200 people in a football stadium. I guess they moved it to the stadium because the other venue was too small. But there were about 65,000 seats in this stadium. Obviously, most of them were empty.

In terms of the optics of this, Rich, was this a big mistake? Because this was an important speech Romney was meant to make. And a lot of folks, you know just the sound of it, just sounded like he was talking to no one out there.

GALEN: Well, of course. I mean, there's got to be something between 700 seats which is where the Detroit economic clog normally has its venue and 65,000 seats. I mean, you'd think somewhere in the city of Detroit there was something in the middle.

But I think -- but I was watching this on -- I was following this on Twitter all day. And you would have thought listening to the national reporters that this was the biggest mistake in the history of American politics. It was not a good optics. And you're showing it right now. It was not a favorable thing.

But I think once people listen to what Romney said in terms of what with he's proposing moving forward, that if anybody cares about it -- I'm not sure many do -- but if they listened to what he said instead of how many empty seats there were, they would be genuinely favorably disposed. And I think Michiganders will show this on Tuesday.

COOPER: Hilary, the other thing reporters focused on and whether, I don't know if this is fair or not, was he mentioned his wife drives a couple of Cadillacs.


COOPER: That's the other thing a lot of reporters were talking about. Is that just the media looking for something to attack this guy on?

ROSEN: Well, it's -- he's a little out of touch. I have got a couple cars here. And my wife's got a couple cars there. And yes, over in California we've got a couple Cadillacs. I mean, you know, it's that tone deafness that has followed him along this trail where he doesn't realize that actually most people just has one car.

And when he talks about, I get to have cars from every one of the Detroit automakers, I think that that makes people cringe a bit in terms of the sense that he's out of touch. And he probably doesn't care about the price of gas because he's filling all of those cars with gas. One quick point on fuel prices, which is this focus on getting away from oil, alternative energies whether it's natural gas, whether it's solar or wind. You know, the Republicans have simply not invested in this, and that is because the oil companies have held them hostage in congress. So there's not the investment to get us away from being so dependent on --

COOPER: OK. I'm short on time. So Rich, I want you to respond to that then we got to go -- Rich.

GALEN: That is correct. We should have other alternative methods of powers our vehicles. And one of those is natural gas. And I think the president has spoken of that. And I am for that. I think that would make -- especially in heavy duty trucks that would make a huge improvement. I absolutely agree with Hilary that we have to look to alternative fuels.

COOPER: Rich Galen, Hilary Rosen, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

ROSEN: We end in agreement.

COOPER: That's right.

The tragic suicide, coming up, of Tyler Clementi, the college student who killed himself after his roommate allegedly used a Webcam to spy on him in an intimate encounter with another man. His roommate is on trial now for invasion of privacy, among other charges. We'll tell you what happened during an emotional first day in court. There's cameras in the courtroom.

Also later: no end to the deadly protests in Afghanistan over NATO troops burning Korans in a military base.

We'll have the latest.


COOPER: Up close tonight, the trial has started in New Jersey involving the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped off a bridge just days after his roommate allegedly used a Web cam to spy on his encounter with another man.

The roommate, 19-year-old Dahrun Ravi, went on trial today, facing 15 counts, including invasion of privacy.

Now, at the heart of the case is whether Ravi's alleged actions constitute a hate crime, whether they constitute bullying motivated by prejudice against gay people.

Last year, Ravi turned down a plea deal that would have allowed him to avoid any jail time whatsoever. Now a jury is going to have to decide.

Jason Carroll has more on what happened on day one of the trial.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Rutgers University student Dahrun Ravi arrived at a New Jersey courthouse, ready to hear both sides argue whether his actions led to the death of his college roommate, Tyler Clementi. Ravi used a computer Web cam to show Clementi having an intimate encounter with another man. Days later, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

A jury heard vastly different views of the case. The defense says Ravi's actions were childish but not worthy of a conviction.

STEVE ALTMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Just because we do something stupid, we make mistakes, especially when we're young, it doesn't mean we're hateful and we're bigoted. Or we're criminals.

CARROLL: Prosecutor Julia McClure laying out a starkly different view, saying Ravi not only used a Web cam to watch Clementi, but tweeted more would follow.

JULIA MCCLURE, PROSECUTOR: These acts were purposeful. They were intentional, and they were planned. And I would suggest to you that beyond that, they were mean-spirited, malicious, and they were criminal.

CARROLL: The prosecution called their first witnesses, students who knew Ravi. Some testified Ravi and his friend, Molly Wei, who is now cooperating with the prosecution, had offered to show their video stream of Clementi with the man.

MCCLURE: Did there come a point in time, Ms. Cicco, that you saw something on the screen?


MCCLURE: Can you tell us about that?

CICCO: It came up for a second, a quick video. And you saw two males leaning up against a bed, making out.

MCCLURE: What do you mean by making out?

CICCO: Kissing mouth to mouth.

MCCLURE: What was he telling people?

SCOTT XU, WITNESS: He was telling people how he set up his Web cam to view Tyler's actions that night.

CARROLL: But during cross-examination, some of those same witnesses say they could not recall Ravi making anti-gay comments.

ALTMAN: During that period of time, did he ever say anything about displeasure or a problem he was having with Tyler?

AUSTIN CHUNG, WITNESS: No, like, he actually told me that Tyler was a nice guy. CARROLL: Sitting in the packed court, Ravi's family, as well as Clementi's, Tyler's parents telling AC 360 in an earlier interview, each day in court is a painful one.

JANE CLEMENTI, MOTHER: I also just try to focus on the judge and the prosecutor and what's being said and try not to let my mind go to too many different places.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the past, when you've thought about Mr. Ravi, is there anger associated with those thoughts? Hurt?

JOE CLEMENTI, FATHER: I wouldn't say anger. I would characterize it as I'm heartbroken. I'm heartbroken at what happened and about the loss of my son and how it happened. It breaks my heart.


COOPER: Jason Carroll joins me now live.

So the defense attorney saying Ravi never cyber bullied Tyler -- Tyler Clementi. Do we know how the defense is planning to explain the Web cam set up to record him?

CARROLL: Well, I think that what we're going to hear from the defense, Anderson, is that what you had is a case of a young man who was really worried about this older man that Tyler was bringing into the dorm room. And perhaps that's the reason why this Web cam had been set up.

And I think from the prosecution, it's very clear. What they're going to argue is that the evidence will show through Twitter, through witness accounts, through the Web cam, that this was harassment that ultimately ended in a young man's death.

COOPER: Jason, appreciate the reporting.

Still ahead, a "360 Follow-up." Has a medical mystery been solved, or at least is it over? There's a major update on those teenage girls in upstate New York who developed symptoms similar to Tourette's Syndrome. We'll tell you about that. But first, Susan Hendricks has a look at what other stories we're following a "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, at least eight people were killed and 27 hurt in Afghanistan as protests continued for a fourth straight day. The fury is over the burning of Qurans by NATO troops at Bagram Air Field. President Obama has apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the incident.

And growing concerns tonight about how quickly Iran could produce an atomic bomb. A report by international nuclear inspectors says Iran has ramped up efforts to produce enriched uranium while blocking access to a key nuclear site when inspectors were in Iran last week.

And this may be the world's shortest man. He is hoping for the record here. He is 22" tall, 72 years old, and he lives in Nepal. If Guinness World Records verifies his height this weekend, he will take that title. Let's hope he does. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Susan, thanks.

Still ahead, a 360 follow, a major twist in a medical mystery. Many of the teens in upstate New York who were overcome by those bizarre ticks say they are getting better. Was it just a case of mass hysteria? We'll talk to Dr. Drew Pinsky.

Also, a very close crew for the crew of a rescue helicopter that literally broke into pieces. We'll show you the video.


COOPER: A "360 Follow" tonight, to a medical mystery we've been covering closely. Parents in Leroy, New York, were terrified when a dozen teenagers in the local high school, mostly girls, developed strange ticks resembling Tourette's Syndrome. The symptoms came on suddenly in October. Most of the affected teens were girls, as I said.

This video -- this video was taken last October after Sarah Sanchez developed uncontrollable twitching. She was taken to the hospital. She has epilepsy. Her mom said her seizures got worse after the tics started.

During an interview with Dr. Drew last month, Sarah appeared to have a seizure.


DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN ANCHOR: These are seizures she's had since a kid, is that what we're looking at?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, these are from the tics.

PINSKY: these are a different kind of seizure that she developed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are a different kind of seizure.

PINSKY: OK. Are we OK? Do we need to call the paramedics?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, no they -- no, they -- it's OK. It's OK.


COOPER: Sarah's mom said she was fine after the seizure was over.

Some of these teens were diagnosed with something called conversion disorder, a mass hysteria, a physical response to stress. But many of the girls and their parents were not satisfied with that answer. They didn't believe that, even though health and school officials ruled out any environmental cause. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich sent a team to the town to try to collect soil samples. She thought a chemical spill in the '70s near the school may have been linked to the tics, although they were never really able to explain why it would suddenly have appeared in just -- mostly in young teenage girls.

The mystery deepened when a 36-year-old woman who lives in the same town seemed to develop the same type of tics. She said as a teenager she hung out near where the chemical spill had happened. She, too, though, was diagnosed with conversion disorder, a diagnosis she accepted.


MARGIE FITZSIMMONS, DIAGNOSED WITH CONVERSION DISORDER: I have to have faith in my doctors. All of the lab work and CAT scans and MRIs that I've had done have come back within range, within the normal range limits. I mean, so if it ends up being environmental, then does that mean that I don't have hope of getting better? These are thoughts that go through my head.


COOPER: Well, that was Marge Fitzsimmons three weeks ago. Now, in that clip, you could see how difficult it was for her to speak at times. Today we learned that Margie's symptoms have improved so much since that interview that she's returned to work full time.

The doctor who's been treating her has also treated some of the teens. He told us three of the girls are back to normal. Their symptoms have disappeared, and five others are improving significantly. All of them were diagnosed with conversion disorder. Does that mean that the mystery has been solved? Dr. Drew has also been covering this extensively. I talked to him earlier tonight about this new development.


COOPER: So Dr. Drew, the health of these girls seems to be improving. Are you surprised by that?

PINSKY: Well, actually, I'm not surprised for a couple reasons. One is we fully anticipated that, if this was a conversion reaction or a mass hysteria, that it would naturally get better slowly with time, even with no treatment. And they were getting some -- some of them getting some specific treatment which can accelerate the recovery.

The other issue was whether this was a panda (ph), which is this auto immune syndrome that can happen after an infection, and several of the girls got treatment for that, as well. The took antibiotics and some corticosteroids. And if it's a panda (ph), it can accelerate the recovery, obviously. And sometimes these kinds of interventions will act as a placebo, and if it's strictly conversion, of course also accelerate the recovery.

COOPER: We talked to one of the doctors treating some of these girls who said a lot of why these girls are improving is based on trust: trust of patients in the doctor and basically trust of the diagnosis, because initially, I think a lot of them, the ones I talked to, certainly, resisted the idea that this was some sort of mass hysteria or conversion disorder.

PINSKY: That's right. And that's one of the more difficult parts about treating conversion.

Anderson, I ran a medical department, a department of medicine, in a psychiatric hospital for about a decade. And one of my primary responsibilities was to deal with conversion reactions and rule out potential medical causes and then deliver that message if I found, onto the family, and the patient.

And there's a very specific, what we call counter transference, you get a feeling when the family comes at you and they don't like that diagnosis. And I've got to tell you, some of the moms, I discussed that particular fact with some of the moms and I didn't get that feeling I usually get. That's actually what led me to kind of look around for other causes.

COOPER: For people watching, when they hear it's mass hysteria or conversion disorder, that doesn't mean that they were faking it, right?

PINSKY: It absolutely does not. It's not -- it's a subconscious thing, so it's not as though they are aware that they are doing these things or that they are thinking about doing it. That's malingering. That's when somebody does something willfully and consciously in order to have secondary gains, in order to manipulate the system.

There really -- at no point have any of the treating teams ever said that this is malingering. It's at most conversion. And to be fair, you know, when conversions occur, and when they occur in a mass setting, it's often in an isolated community, a small community. It's often younger women, and it's often very dramatic.

COOPER: What about all the attention that the girls have been receiving? Could that have exacerbated their symptoms?

PINSKY: I think it possibly could have. As you know lately, there's not as much media attention directed to that town, and maybe that has helped this whole thing settle down.

I mean, it's a double-edged sword, Anderson. I mean, the media attention allowed us to really direct some resources up to them. They got treatment for the pandas (ph). You have Erin up there who uncovered that trichloroethylene spill. I mean, there are things that were discovered as a result of media attention that might benefit this community and this town overall.

COOPER: And you say categorically there may be -- we may never know exactly just what the cause was.

PINSKY: Yes. It's not as though we'll ever have some smoking gun, some specific test, some specific finding that will tell us absolutely that's what it was.

In my mind, as I walk away from this or as I watch this thing wind down, I still in -- my instinct tells me it's some combination, that yes, conversion was here. There was always, I always believed that it was part of the story. But that some of these girls may have had a biological problem to begin with that triggered this, and then the conversion ensued in some of the other cases.

So again, important -- it's a really important message I want to give out. You never call something a psychiatric diagnosis until you've categorically ruled out other biological problems. Because psychiatric symptoms can be manifestations of all sorts of biological issues.

COOPER: So you think there may have been a biological issue with one or two of them, but then the others kind of, it was more of a conversion reaction to it?

PINSKY: If you asked me for a bet, that's where my bet would go.

COOPER: Interesting. Dr. Drew, thanks.

PINSKY: Thanks.


COOPER: Well, up next tonight, it looks like Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach accused of sexually abusing kids, could have more legal troubles coming his way. We'll explain that.

And a fortune in silver and gold coins found in the bottom of the ocean finds a permanent home after a legal battle. We'll tell you about this.


COOPER: "The RidicuList" is just ahead, something to make you smile before -- before the weekend. But first, Susan Hendricks is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Susan.

HENDRICKS: Hi, Anderson.

It appears federal prosecutors are now looking into the sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Penn State says it has received a federal subpoena seeking information about the former assistant football coach. Jerry Sandusky, as you may know, he's under house arrest while he awaits child trail of dozens of child sex abuse charges brought by state prosecutors.

Take a look at this. A rescue helicopter at an air strip in northern Brazil. It shook violently as it landed and fell apart, literally. First the top gets broken, too, then the tail section in part. Crew members suffered only minor injuries.

Look at this. Inside these black bins and tons of gold and silver coins that were loaded onto military transports today in Florida and flown to Spain. The coins were found in a ship that sank in the 19th century off the coast of Spain.

The American company that discovered the treasure shipped it here and fought for ownership and U.S. Courts ruled, unh-oh, that the treasure belongs to Spain.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Wow. Worth a lot of money. All right, Susan. Thanks.

Coming up, a young woman shows up on the news without really meaning to. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding a group of people we're calling newsroom extras. They're kind of like extras in movies, except they don't always know they're on camera. And they're not really being paid for it.

Take for instance the case of a certain live news forecast from the University of Florida. I encourage you to keep your eye on the background.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Students can register for the lottery starting tomorrow and registration is open until Friday. The UAA will notify the winners of the lottery by Monday, December 15, and vouchers can then be picked up from Tuesday through Thursday.

Now, students with more than 90 credit hours have the best chance of getting tickets, but everyone is welcome to sign up.

Live from the news room, Tara Minnelli, WUSC News.


COOPER: That was posted online. The young journalist in the background making the copies seems to have a great sense of humor about it.

On her blog, Kristen writes that she had been working for hours on a project in a dark editing room, went to the printer to pick up some papers, didn't realize at first that the bright light she was staring at was perched on top of a camera. She calls it one of her most awkward moments, but Kristen, we think it's frankly adorable.

I love just how frozen you are and then, like, you disappear.

You can take heart in knowing that it could have been a lot worse, a whole lot worse, as a matter of fact. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Experts say it is also important that you try to keep the bed bugs out of your home, and the best way when you stay in a hotel, you might want to use a plastic bag like this one.


COOPER: Oh. Oh, see the thing about working in the news, you have to pick your stories very carefully, and you also have to pick your battles.




COOPER: I love his response. He just leaves.

The real fun starts when you leave the news room and you go out for live shots. That's when every Tom, Dick, and drunk Harry shows up, sometimes dressed like chickens.


COOPER: Much more coverage of Hurricane Ike still coming up. There's a lot of people, if you can believe it or not, in Houston, a couple bars are still open.


COOPER: I have to say, I was actually pretty lucky with that one. At least the guy had some clothes on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been out a couple of hours, getting the building clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold out here, woo!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people are just out of their minds, you know. What are you going to do? I mean, it's nuts.


COOPER: Now it's one thing when the story is kind of lighthearted, but what happens when someone takes the focus off a reporter who's covering a really serious story like -- I don't know, like Kim Kardashian's wedding?


KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, as for the wedding, a lot of its details have been kept under wraps. We do know the bride, Kim, will be wearing Vera Wang. She's going to be marrying her NBA beau, NBA player Kris Humphries. Kim also spoke out yesterday to Ryan Seacrest. He, of course, produces a reality show on E!, "Keeping up with the Kardashians." And while she didn't reveal a lot of juicy details, she did say that her dress is going to blow everyone away.


COOPER: That was actually Kris Humphries himself. Little known fact. In retrospect, that child was showing precisely probably the right amount of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the occasion of the Kim Kardashian nuptials.

Anyway, the point is in news, as in life, sometimes the best parts are happening in the background.

Hey, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.